A CONSERVATIONIST who has been stalked by lions and charged by elephants has shared words of wisdom with students at her alma mater.
Zoologist Tammie Matson graduated from St Patrick’s College in 1993 and she returned to the school yesterday as the guest speaker at the Women’s Career Network breakfast.
Dr Matson was just 15 when she visited Zimbabwe with her father, inspiring her to become a wildlife conservationist in Africa by the age of 21.
“That first trip really just opened my eyes and I fell in love with Africa,” she said.
She went back to volunteer during her gap year, prompting her to change her plan to study law to pursue life as a wildlife conservationist.
After graduating from the University of Queensland, she went back to Zimbabwe, winning a PhD scholarship to study the black- faced impala.
When the nation grew volatile, she relocated to Namibia.
Over the course of her career Dr Matson has helped radio- collar desert elephants, taught English at a small African primary school and worked to reduce human- elephant conflict among the San Bushmen in northeast Namibia.
Dr Matson said her career had taught her a lot about fear.
“A few years ago I was in Botswana, which has the largest elephant population in the world,” she said.
“I was working with a safari company and I had a group of women in the car with me. We saw this big bull elephant ... we’d just turned the car off. He came towards us and reached us within about five steps.”
Dr Matson said the elephant began to lean on the front of the car and push down on the bonnet.
“We couldn’t start the car because that might have scared him and that could have actually provoked some anger,” she said. “Then he sort of reached his trunk around and it was very close to my arm. I could actually feel the hot air on my arm.”
It isn’t the only close encounter Dr Matson has had with wildlife, accidentally coming between a group of lionesses and their kill as a 21- year- old.
“Having fear is just a natural part of life in the animal kingdom,” she said. “You have to remove feeling of fear and respond in a way that saves your life.”
After moving to Singapore in 2012, Dr Matson co- founded the Let Elephants Be Elephants campaign in South- East Asia to raise awareness of the connection between the poaching of elephants and the demand for ivory in Asia.
She now lives in Cairns with her husband, Andy Ridley, the founding CEO of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, and their two sons, Solo, 7, and Shep, 3.
Dr Matson runs her own safari business, which means she returns to Africa regularly.